Why we dropped guns, by ex-insurgents

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Recently, 155 Boko Haram insurgents declared their allegiance to the Federal Government of Nigeria, formally denouncing their membership of the terrorist. The insurgents had earlier dropped their weapons to enrol into the Nigerian Army’s Operation Safe Corridor, a De-Radicalisation Rehabilitation programme for repentant insurgents. The 155 ex-combatants are part of the 254 who had surrendered to the Nigerian Army.

The Nigerian Army recently graduated the 155 repentant ex-members and united them with representatives of their respective states, after they successfully underwent an 11-month programme at a camp in Gombe State. Some of them explained why they dropped their guns and embraced the amnesty offered by government.

Abdullahi Wanungu, 23, a resident of Bulama-Zara village of Damboa LGA, Borno State, said he decided to embrace peace having realized the futility of their struggle. He said they were forced into the war by insurgents when they invaded their village.

“For fear of being killed and with nowhere to go, we remained in the village. However, whenever the military launched an attack to reclaim the town, Boko Haram would storm our village and give us weapons to help them repel the troops,” Wanungu said. According to him, he also participated in three attacks, before he decided to drop the gun and flee the village, leaving his wife and parents behind. “I sneaked out from the village in the night and surrendered myself at one of the security checkpoints, leaving my family and 10 siblings behind,” he added.

Wanungu vowed not to go back to the village again, saying he suspects his family is still in the bush with Boko Haram fighters: “The military has assured us that at the end of our rehabilitation programme, we would be allowed to live in any state we wish in Nigeria. Therefore, I will relocate to Yobe to start a new life.”

For Tela Dandija, 32, a resident of Maisandarin Damaturu LGA, Yobe State, he joined Boko Haram having an impression that it was a worthy cause to form an Islamic state. “I joined them with my two wives and six children thinking we are fighting a religious cause. I participated in many attacks that resulted in the destruction of many towns and villages. I later realized that what they portrayed to us is totally false. Therefore when I became aware of the amnesty introduced by government, I just gathered my family and moved out of the town in the night and surrendered at the military barracks at Buni Yadi, Yobe state,”.

Dandija said he lost contact with his wives since surrendering to the military. “But I was told that they were united with their parents, who came for them after they were told that their children have surrendered to the army,” he said.

Abba Shuwa, who spoke on behalf of fellow repentant Boko Haram fighters at their graduation, begged Nigerians to forgive them. He also called on those still fighting in the bush to come out and accept the amnesty, so as to become useful in the society.

READ ALSO: Boko Haram Insurgency: President Buhari heads to Chad

Operation Safe Corridor was introduced by the federal government in 2016 as an amnesty programme, and one of the strategies to end the prolonged war against Boko Haram insurgents. The programme is a multi-agency operation, which comprises staff from the armed forces, para-military, other ministries, departments and agencies, and the Presidential Committee on North East Initiative (PCNI).

The graduating set of 155 clients were rehabilitated having underwent training in various vocational skills for 11 months.

Also speaking at the graduation ceremony, coordinator of the programme, Major General Bamidele Shafa, said the ex-fighters are the second batch of repentant Boko Haram members who were discharged and handed over to their state authorities for reintegration and resettlement. He said the first batch, consisting of 95 people, was discharged last February after they were successfully de-radicalized.

Maj.-Gen. Shafa said they visited frontline affected states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, to sensitize authorities, traditional rulers, religious leaders and other relevant stakeholders on the need to reconcile, resettle and reintegrate the repentant fighters. “My appeal to the people of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, and the entire North-East is to forgive, forget, reconcile, resettle and re-integrate these people back into the society. They have been transformed; they have sworn an oath of allegiance to Nigeria, pledging to be good, responsible, and law-abiding citizens,” he said.

Chief of Defence Staff, General Ayobami Olonisakin, represented by Rear Admiral Peter Onaji, said the repentant insurgents are prepared for a normal life after the camp. “In the course of the programme, they’ve been exposed to religious training by carefully selected clerics and taken through rudimentary formal education and recreational activities. They were also introduced to vocational training, like barbing, carpentry, cosmetology, farming, leather works, tailoring, and welding. Also, funds and tools have been provided for them to start a new life,” he said.”

Camp Commandant, Colonel Gurama Martins, said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has constructed and equipped a befitting vocational training centre at the camp.

Emir of Fika, Alhaji Muhammadu Abali witnessed the graduation ceremony, and said repentant insurgents may likely face rejection by their communities. “So as traditional institutions, we need to do a lot of work to help educate the public better,” he said.

 

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